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Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association Report (ES-CA)

—Chris Daul

A judge has granted the ES-CA Land Protection Trust’s motion to be joined in the lawsuit that the County has against Vulcan. This will allow the LPT to have access to all the documents filed and to actively participate in the legal process. ES-CA is continuing to push the County to file additional enforcement actions against Vulcan for their continuing operations that are in violation of the original approval.

ES-CA has been pushing hard for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling applications that would be located in the area of the Santa Fe Aquifer. While County Commissioners Dominguez and Scherzinger are in favor of a moratorium, no other commissioners will support it. The County is in the process of preparing an ordinance that would regulate this activity in the County, but there is a possibility that a company could submit an application, prior to enactment of the ordinance.

ES-CA Board members Ed Majka and Chris Daul met with Sandoval County Medical Center CEO Jamie Silva-Steele to follow-up on her presentation to the ES-CA board in April. ES-CA was initially confused as to the numbers presented by SRMC as to patient load and accounting. The meeting helped to clear some issues. SRMC is operating at around eighty percent occupancy, which is the minimal number for the industry. They are on a course to lose approximately one million dollars this fiscal year, which is an improvement over past years and does show an improvement. Chris Daul was appointed to the Community Advisory Board and will attend his first meeting in May. Ed Majka is trying to schedule a meeting with RUST officials.

The ES-CA Annual Meeting is scheduled for June 25, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Anasazi Winery. NM Public Regulation Commission Chairwoman Valerie Espinoza and Bureau of Land Management Albuquerque District Director Danita Burns will be guest speakers. Ms. Espinoza will talk about the role the PRC plays in regulating utility rates, what the PRC is doing to promote renewable energy and pipeline safety. Ms. Burns will talk about how the BLM manages its land holdings, which are numerous in New Mexico. All persons are welcome to attend.

The next ES-CA board meeting will be on June 6, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Placitas Fire Station. All are welcome to attend.

re: As coal collapses, groups launch lawsuit challenging 25-year extension of Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine suit seeks renewable energy transition alternatives

On April 20, amid crumbling coal economics and surging renewable energy growth, Navajo, regional, and national conservation groups filed suit in Arizona’s federal district court, challenging the U.S. government’s 25-year extension of coal operations at Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine. The approval, which allows coal mining and combustion through 2041, lacked any assessment of clean energy alternatives.

The lawsuit comes as the world’s largest mining company, Peabody Coal, joins Arch, Alpha, Patriot, and other U.S. coal companies in bankruptcy; as industry efforts to export more U.S. coal to Asia hit market and community roadblocks; and as investments in renewables rapidly outpace fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Navajo Nation has taken over ownership and liabilities of Navajo Mine from departing BHP Billiton and is preparing to buy El Paso Electric’s share of Four Corners Power Plant in a deal to be brokered by majority owner Arizona Public Service.

“Four Corners region coal has enabled far-off places like Phoenix and Southern California to thrive, so now that coal is on a permanent decline, we deserve real attention to how our region can diversify going forward,” said Mike Eisenfeld with San Juan Citizens Alliance in Farmington, New Mexico. “Given the energy landscape today, it’s a serious disservice for government leaders to just tell the Four Corners to stick with collapsing coal without even a look at alternatives.”

The lawsuit is in response to the Department of the Interior preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement that was finalized in May of 2015 that violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), failing to adequately analyze impacts to air, water, land, people, and endangered fish. Despite being in a unique position to address responsible transition from the 54-year legacy of the Four Corners Power Plant/Navajo Mine complex, the Department of the Interior chose not to take a hard look at a reasonable range of alternatives. The lawsuit challenges the Record of Decision under NEPA and the Endangered Species Act for 25 more years of the operation of the complex.

“The Four Corners mine-to-mouth coal complex represents a prime example of an energy operation that cannot operate without harming the surrounding people and environment,” said Shiloh Hernandez, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “That the U.S. Department of the Interior has largely swept these dangers aside is a health and environmental injustice, and its deafening silence on transition options is an economic injustice.”

“Our Navajo Nation president recently declared ‘We can’t depend on our coal, oil, and gas revenues anymore,’” said Carol Davis of Diné CARE. “The rapid decline of global coal economics necessitates a hard look at solution-oriented growth for the Navajo Nation and Navajo communities, with reparations for over fifty years of undervalued resource flow off our lands. Approving 25 more years of coal mining and burning at the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant blindly assumes profitable operations when in reality they are suspect at best, and places the Navajo Nation at great economic risk with the cost of owning and operating Navajo Mine with full responsibility for eventual reclamation.”

“The same coal pollution that makes people sick is driving endangered fish toward extinction in San Juan River,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now is the time to begin transitioning to clean, renewable energy.”

 “Mercury is the most common pollution problem in lakes and reservoirs in the region, and mercury is in coal pollution,” said Rachel Conn with Amigos Bravos. “In New Mexico alone, mercury causes impairment of sixty thousand acres of lakes and reservoirs in the state, which is more than double the area impaired by any other pollution source.”

“The energy market is changing fast and long-term commitments to coal will prove to be costly mistakes,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The Department of the Interior should support a planned transition from coal to instead of rubber-stamping another 25 years of toxic pollution that harms people and wildlife. Doubling down on coal flies in the face of accelerating climate disruption and the extreme risks it brings to people and the environment that sustains communities.”

Attorneys from the Western Environmental Law Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Barth Law Office represent Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, and the Sierra Club for this case.

—Shiloh Hernandez, Western Environmental Law Center

A miracle happened in New Mexico, and state officials missed it

—Kevin Bixby, Writers on the Range

The eyes of the conservation world were on New Mexico recently as biologists placed two endangered Mexican wolf pups—so young that their eyes were still closed – into a litter of wild wolves, deep in the Gila National Forest.

It was the end of a remarkable journey that began hundreds of miles away at the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis, Missouri, where the pups had been born nine days earlier. The animals were chosen for their unique genetic makeup, and the hope was that they would be accepted and raised by their new family, eventually producing offspring of their own.

Getting wild wolves to raise captive-born pups is a tricky business. It's known as cross-fostering, and it has never been tried with Mexican wolves before. As the Wolf Center's Regina Mossotti says, "Not only do the stars have to align, but the moon and the planets, too." But with only 100 or so lobos still living in the wild, it is a risk that needs to be taken. Biologists say that infusing new genes into the wild population through cross-fostering and direct releases of paired adult wolves is urgently needed prevent the animals' extinction.

Happily, it seems to be working this time. The pups appear to have been adopted by their new wild parents.

 Saint Francis of Assisi would have been proud. As the story goes, he miraculously brokered a pact between the town of Gubbio and the wolf that was said to be terrorizing it. Often overlooked in the telling of this medieval parable is that the offending wolf was motivated by hunger, not malice. Peace was only achieved after Francis acknowledged the wolf's needs and pledged to provide for the animals.

In modern terms, we might acknowledge the wolves' needs by admitting that the animals need enough room to roam and that they have an intrinsic right to exist. These are things that humans too often deny to the millions of other species with which we share the planet.

As Pope Francis has said, "Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us." Both the saint and his contemporary namesake might view bringing two wolf pups to the wilds of New Mexico to save a subspecies as the Miracle of Gubbio: Part Two.

But New Mexico officials don't seem to see it that way. The state's Department of Game and Fish threatened to take the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court to prevent releases of wolves in the state. To its credit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did the right thing and released wolves anyway. Since then it has placed more pups with wild wolf families in Arizona.

State officials say their gripe is over legal issues—"states' rights"—and not opposition to wolves themselves. But that statement is suspect. The Fish and Game Department, the commission that oversees it, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who appointed the Game Commission, have demonstrated ample times that they don't want wolves in New Mexico.

Shortly after Martinez was elected, for example, the state withdrew as a partner in the lobo recovery program. Then state officials began denying permits to import and release wolves, though such permits had been routinely issued in the past. More recently, Martinez joined with the governors of neighboring states in declaring their opposition to allowing wolves to expand into areas that biologists say are essential to the animals' long-term survival.

Even though the state is unlikely to prevail if it goes to court to stop additional wolf releases, a lawsuit could cause damaging delays. The loss of genetic diversity is a one-way ticket to extinction, and the only way to reverse it is to release more wolves, with different genes, before it is too late.

Ironically, throwing up roadblocks to wolf recovery simply puts one of the officials' goals further out of reach. Throughout the West, state officials insist that they want and deserve control over wolves. But their actions only postpone the day when the Mexican wolf is declared recovered and taken off the federal endangered list. And that is something that has to happen before management can be turned over to New Mexico. Where other states, such as Idaho, have taken over management, the usual response has been aggressive hunting and trapping to reduce wolf numbers. There's no reason to think New Mexico wouldn't do the same thing.

For now, keeping wolves under federal management is fine with the majority of New Mexicans who welcome wolves and want them to thrive here.

Kevin Bixby is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News ( He is executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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